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Some Law Schools Are Admitting Fewer Students. Hold the Applause

Posted Jun 21, 2011 7:08 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A handful of law schools have announced plans to shrink their incoming classes, leading to speculation about the reasons why.

Is the move designed to better students’ chances of landing a job or to better the schools’ rankings in U.S. News & World Report? Inside Higher Ed points out that law schools with smaller classes can be more selective, admitting students with better credentials and with a greater chance of passing the bar, all factors in the rankings. The pressure to downsize is even greater at a time when law school applications have dropped by about 11 percent.

Controversial University of California law professor John Yoo sees another reason for the cuts: Reduced demand could mean pressure to reduce tuition. “The decision to reduce the size of a law school class has little to do with morality (though it may have a lot to do with moralizing) and everything to do with economics,” he wrote in a March blog post at Richochet.

The latest law schools to announce smaller class sizes include Creighton University in Nebraska and Western New England in Massachusetts, Above the Law reports, citing stories by the Omaha World-Herald and BusinessWest. Others include Touro Law Center and Albany Law School, the New York Law Journal reported in March.

“Not to be an elitist,” Yoo writes, “but it is no surprise that lower ranked law schools will be the first ones which will experience the effects [of a drop in demand for legal services] and will reduce the size of their classes, or reduce their tuitions, accordingly.”

Will smaller class sizes create financial problems for private schools? Ed Birmingham, associate dean for administration and finance at Creighton, tells Inside Higher Ed that the school found a way to deal with the problem. The school announced the decision to restrict enrollment in a letter to alumni that also asked for donations. He thinks their response will be positive.

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